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Illiteracy will take its toll on economy, solon warns




A 2019 DepEd report says thousands of Filipino grade school students can't read. ( photo)

Alarmed over a 2019 report by the Department of Education that most grade school pupils can’t read, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda is urging his colleagues to pass a series of bills he filed under the Comprehensive Education Reform Agenda.

He said the measures are meant to address the country’s illiteracy problem which he referred to as a “ticking economic time bomb.”

“Any one child who reaches higher levels of elementary school without knowing how to read is already a cause for concern,” said Salceda, citing the DepEd Bicol 2019 data, which he said may also be the case in other regions.

“When I was Albay Governor from 2007 to 2016, Bicol made significant strides in education, to the point that many of our efforts in Albay were replicated across the country and we were nationally recognized and awarded. It appears to me that when government changes and it becomes less aggressive in promoting better quality of educations, the outcomes also slide back,” added the Ways and Means committee chair.

DepEd Bicol reported that 70,000 school children in the Bicol Region, mostly first and second graders, can’t read.  Secretary Leonor Briones has since labeled the report as “exaggerated.”

Briones was referring to the results of pretests administered by the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI) which refers to the revised assessment tool designed to determine a student’s reading level.

She said the results were exaggerated since it combined the number of students who had difficulty reading in English and Filipino and emphasized that “not knowing how to read is different from being illiterate.”

“Palagay ko, insulto naman iyon sa mga Bikolano dahil one of their schools, iyong Partido State University (in Camarines Sur), eh ang taas ng rating eh. So iyon, gusto ko lang i-clarify iyan,” Briones said in a “Laging Handa” press briefing in Malacañang recently.

Salceda said there is an urgent need for systemic national reform.

“We should call the situation what it is: a national crisis that requires decisive national action,” he said.

“This is a ticking economic time bomb. We need to respond with a policy as soon as we can. For all our talk of the demographic dividend, if young Filipinos are not properly skilled and properly educated, if they cannot apply what’s in their books in practical, everyday life, then we shall have failed as a country and as a system. We will not be able to compete in the next generation.”

Salceda said “the economic costs for every non-literate learner can be staggering.

“Functional literacy is a determinant of whether a student finishes school. On average, the rates of return to education go as much as seven percent per year of high school, and up to 22 percent per year of college,” he explained.

“Those who cannot finish school because they are not functionally literate will likely earn about 50 percent of what a college degree-holder earns, on average. Aggregately, if the rate of latent illiteracy are the same for all regions, we could be foregoing up to two percent of national income every year by the time these students start working. This is staggering.”

Salceda said the quest for the best education system prompted him to file several proposals, under his Comprehensive Education Reform Agenda: House Bill 6231, the Teacher Empowerment Act, which will empower teachers and ‘deload’ their schedules so they have more time for learner interventions; HB 6247, the K-12 Reform Act, a comprehensive improvement of the curriculum towards better skills and deeper understanding of lessons; HB 6287, the Meister Schools Act, to help close the skills gap; and HB 6295, the Universal Free School Meals Program, to close the nutrition gap that stunts school children’s potential and making it harder for them to learn basic life skills.

“I am especially gunning for Universal Free School Meals. The 70,000 figure represents four percent of 1.8 million enrollees measured by the July pre-test. Validation in December shows that the number reduced to a maximum of about 20,587 non-readers, and that the reduction could be traced to feeding programs which started in August, and teacher-focused reading. Nutrition works. Teacher empowerment works,” Salceda explained further.

Under HB 6295, nutritious meals for low income kindergarten and grade school pupils will be given for free in public schools.

“Shortly, I will file a bill to promote remedial and after-school programs—which will respond to this literacy crisis. I will also file bills to make schools safer, to deload the curriculum even further and make it more locally adaptable, and to bolster our education infrastructure and financing,” he said.

Salceda expects to complete filing the Comprehensive Education Reform Agenda before February ends.

“The House will have enough time to initiate committee deliberations before we adjourn for Easter break. To DepEd’s credit, this is the first time we are facing the problem by being honest about its dimensions. At the same time, we need a robust, all-of-country, all-of-government response to the situation,” the lawmaker noted.

Salceda noted that Filipino students and teachers are among the most overworked in the world—too many subjects, too many activities, but inadequate results.

“In college, I was taught the principle of non multa sed multum. Not many things, but much. That’s what our education system needs today,” Salceda said. (With a report from PNA)

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